the Denver Broncos defense is legit
By: Steven Johnson
With NFL football being non-existent since the Super Bowl in January, many fans flock to see their first action in several months in the first week of preseason football. Not only does it give a tantalizing taste of how fast the regular season is approaching, but it also gives coaches and staff chances to evaluate young players. These games will help shape the 53-man roster and force coaches to decide who they would like to keep and who may need to look for a spot elsewhere in the league. While only the first game of the preseason where many starters did not take the field, I think there are still some significant take-aways from this game against Minnesota.
This Broncos defense is going to cause problems
Regardless of who the personnel is this season, this Broncos defense will be a scary unit. Like in years prior, the RedZone defense seems to be on track in staying one of the best in the NFL. The coverage and overall cohesiveness of the secondary will allow Denver’s pass rush to cause issues for opposing offensive lines. In the Vikings’ three total RedZone trips on the day, the Broncos were able to hold them to just two field-goal attempts and one failed Fourth Down conversion that turned the ball back to the Broncos. The defense seems to have picked up where it left off last year in holding teams to minimal point opportunities. In general, for the Broncos’ defense, there were stars all over the field.
A holding penalty in the Endzone gave the Broncos the first points of the game with a safety.
A “Surtain” rookie corner housed a pick-6 to give the Broncos further points.
A young safety duo showed good glimpses of what life without Kareem Jackson could be in the next couple of years as well.
Denver’s young defensive players stood up to a challenge of other NFL caliber players, starters or not. Not only did they compete, but they also flat out dictated the game by only allowing a total of SIX points in four quarters of football. It did not matter who was at quarterback for the Vikings, the defense was able to cause problems and flew around the field for 60 minutes of play. While some of these players may not work out ultimately, you have to give them props for the performance they put together in the first game action of the season.
Without Von Miller, Bradly Chubb, Justin Simmons, and other key players, the Broncos showed they have the depth to compete and cause trouble for opposing offenses.
Patrick Surtain II was the right pick
Since he was drafted, Surtain was put under a microscope and compared to potential draft pick QB Justin Fields. Many clamored for Fields and insisted that Surtain was essentially a “wasted pick” compared to a Quarterback who many believed to be Denver’s savior at the position. After his performance yesterday, many more should warm up to him staying in Denver for a long time to come.
Surtain finished his day with the highest grade of any Cornerback after displaying very impressive skills and a feel for the game. Not only did he get his first interception, but it also turned into a house call when he was able to return it for a touchdown as well. Surtain was only thrown at twice but allowed zero catches. The only other pass his way was broken up and defended rather well. There very well were other plays in which he was covering, but the quarterbacks knew not to look his way again. In what is turning into a ridiculously deep Corner room, Patrick Surtain II seems to be ready to make his mark on the field with the rest of the starters.
The Running back room looks good
Coming into the game while missing starter Melvin Gordon with a groin injury, all eyes seemed to be on the rest of the running back room to decide who would make their case for a roster spot. Before the game, Mike Boone was ruled out with an injury, leaving the first reps to rookie Javonte Williams and veteran Royce Freeman.
Williams looked the part from his college tape, being a physical back who can make people miss. While only getting five carries for 29 yards, Williams was credited with three avoided tackles. With an average of just under 6 Yards Per Carry, this slight workload was enough from coaches to shut him down for the day. Williams also had a 4-yard run go for a touchdown but was nullified by a holding penalty. This performance shows that the coaches have seen enough in Williams to save him for real game action and should expect to see a healthy dose of him next week when the starters play.
Royce Freeman was originally a running back that many believed would be on the outside looking in on the Broncos’ running back room. With the injuries to Mike Boone and Melvin Gordon, Freeman may cement a spot on the week one roster due to reliability and a good preseason. Freeman matched Williams in carries with five but went for 33 yards on his runs. With an average of 6.6 Yards Per Carry, that is the kind of production many in Denver thought he would enjoy when taking him in the 2018 draft. He added to his versatility on a couple of catches for 14 yards as well. While never living up to the hype, Freeman could earn a spot as a solid role player due to injury if luck doesn’t go the Broncos’ way.
The Receiver room may be deeper than we think
Some of Denver’s top receiving talent was benched to avoid injury this game. Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Albert Okuwuegbunam all did not participate in the game against Minnesota. These absences left plenty of opportunity for the receivers on the bubble to showcase their talent and give the coaching staff a reason to keep them on the roster.
One such receiver was camp standout Trinity Benson. Regardless of which quarterback was playing, Benson was a favorite target and frequently found success. Benson caught all four balls thrown his way and amassed 36 yards and two touchdowns on the day. With this first performance, if Benson can stay consistent with this type of production throughout the rest of the preseason he very well may find a roster spot to start the year.
Wide Receivers K.J Hamler and Jerry Jeudy got playing time at the beginning of the game as well, with the big play being Hamler’s 80-yard touchdown bomb in the first quarter. When the regular season begins, the Broncos will find a formidable Wide Receiver room with the likes of Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, and Patrick all having experience in this offense. Behind the first four or so Receivers, the spots behind them seem to be wide open, and the decision will be up to those fighting for those last couple spots to impress in the remaining preseason games to secure their roster spot.
The Quarterbacks started on the right foot
Both Quarterbacks for Denver came into the game needing to put on solid performances against the Vikings. Both Lock and Bridgewater focused on putting good drives together to gain an advantage in the quarterback competition going back to camp. Happily, for everyone following the Broncos, both QB prospects had great starting games.
First and foremost, preseason or not, Drew Lock looked good. Lock finished the day 5-7-151 and had two touchdown throws on the day, one of which being the 80-yard throw to Hamler. Lock consistently was able to find the open man and to control the pocket, buying time with his legs and knowing when to tuck and run. If Lock can put together multiple performances like this in the following weeks, it would be hard to imagine him not taking the starting spot. Lock finished the day with only two passes not caught and a passer rating of 153.3 before taking a seat for the other Quarterback competing for the starting job. While a great start, Lock will be watched closely to see if he has found the consistency that has been lacking in his previous play.
Teddy Bridgewater entered for the second part of the game, and also found success with the offense that remained on the field. While not as flashy as the Lock at the start, Bridgewater finished the day with success as he accumulated 74 yards on seven attempts and one touchdown as well. Bridgewater also had a rushing touchdown on the day but was called back because of a flag. Bridgewater was brought in because of his safe attitude and tendency to take safe throws as a counter to Lock’s erratic play. For him to win the starting job, he must show he can be aggressive when needed and push the ball downfield instead of taking the safe throws. Next week, Bridgewater will start with the first-team offense and will be put under the spotlight to show what he has learned throughout the offseason.
While both Lock and Bridgewater put on solid showings, they must build off of their performances and show that they are ready to make the jump to being the full-time starter for this loaded Denver offense. The next couple of weeks and game prep will be essential to naming the Denver Broncos 2021 starting Quarterback.
While this was only a preseason game in the first week of the season, there was plenty of excitement to go around. Broncos Country saw a competent offense and a defense that lived up to the hype of the off-season. The attention will now focus on the next two preseason games as evidence to decide who needs to be on the roster and who needs more time on the practice squad to hone their skills. Building off of the success of this game will be the challenge coach Vic Fangio will have to ensure his team performs at upcoming practice. There is plenty of opportunity for excitement in the upcoming week for the Denver Broncos.